All of us humans have lived through some type of overwhelming and disturbing experiences over the years of our lives. In one way or another we are all trauma survivors. Most of those experiences take their place in the story of our life, one of the many pieces of the puzzle to who we are. However, for a variety of reasons sometimes an experience is too much and it gets stuck, it keeps a powerful hold over us rather than being a part of our past. If this is happening for you, EMDR can help.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a fancy, technical name for a psychotherapy method that can really stir things up and facilitate healing in a dramatic and effective way. EMDR helps the brain do what it wants to do: naturally heal. Through the pairing of bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping or sound) alongside reflection on traumatic memories and negative beliefs, we are able to better resolve unprocessed traumatic memories and free ourselves from limiting beliefs.
I invite you to spend ten minutes watching the EMDRIA video that answers many questions.
Working as an EMDR therapist involves extensive postgraduate training. I trained with the Trauma Institute and Child Trauma Institute (https://www.ticti.org). Training involved eight full days over the course of multiple months and included theory, practice, and supervision. After completing this program I am formally considered “EMDR Trained.”
The next level of professional growth and expertise is certification. To be formally certified as an EMDR therapist, one must complete many additional hours of course study, work with over 25 different clients using EMDR, and be supervised by a certified consultant for an extensive time period. I am currently pursuing certification. Our professional organization, EMDRIA, has all the details about training and certification if you would like more information.
In addition to formal training, I am a lifelong learner and I devour books and articles that will help me support my clients. I consult with colleagues and participate in several communities of EMDR therapists. In some ways EMDR seems simple, but done well it is a nuanced, complex, and powerful therapeutic approach. If you choose to work with a different therapist for EMDR, I urge you to check on their formal training. You deserve to work with someone who really knows what they are doing!
Let me start by explaining a key feature of EMDR, bilateral stimulation (BLS). BLS refers to engaging each side of the brain in an alternating fashion. This can be done with the eye movements of course, and also through listening to tones or even music in first one ear and then the other, etc., or through some form of tapping/pulsing – of feeling a physical sensation on one side of the body and then the other. We’ll talk about what works best for you in our work together.
There are eight formal phases of EMDR therapy. Before we do work with eye movements or another BLS, we have laid an important foundation which includes: establishing a connection so there is a level of comfort and safety in sessions; exploring present day triggers and the distress that ensues; developing and practicing some coping skills to manage distress; identifying the “list” of traumatic memories/experiences; recognizing the false negative beliefs about yourself that hold too much power over you, and establishing some goals for the future.
When we are ready to work with BLS, those sessions will be something like this: We will identify a memory we are targeting, an image that represents it, the negative self belief associated with it, and the distressing feelings that you experience when stuck in that memory/experience. I will ask you to focus on the image, the negative belief, and the distressing feeling while simultaneously moving your eyes back and forth or engaging in another BLS. If we are using eye movements, you will follow my hand to move your eyes back and forth at a certain speed and for a specific length of time. We will pause between sets of eye movements to check in and observe how things are processing. Your brain will do its own healing.
It sounds like it could be overwhelming, and frankly re-traumatizing, to hold in mind difficult memories. However, we don’t delve into details, I’m right there with you, and we have done the important foundational work ahead of time. One of the key things about EMDR, is that bilateral stimulation can really serve to keep you in the present moment, not back in the past reliving a horrible moment. If it does get too overwhelming, we stop. You are in control, every step of the way.
Well, it’s a bit of a mystery. The human brain is a miraculous, wondrous thing. Under ideal circumstances, when we experience something overwhelmingly distressing, our brain is able to process and resolve the experience. We reflect, learn, and grow from it, and the experience simply becomes a part of the story of our life, without holding outsized emotional intensity. However, for a number of reasons, sometimes an experience is just too much to process and it stays stuck, locked in the nervous system in its raw, jumbled up state. Because the experience is stuck in its original state, we can be easily triggered and react out of proportion to the actual present day circumstances.
EMDR helps the brain’s natural information processing system connect with the stuck memory and process it through. Some of the ideas we have about just how that happens are: bilateral stimulation keeps part of the brain in the present competing with the traumatic memories for your attention and thus making the memories less vivid and emotional; the eye movements appear to activate the same neurological processes that we experience during deep REM sleep; the eye movements and other BLS activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms us down, slows our heart rate and breathing, etc.) pairing a more comfortable physical experience with the recollection of the trauma; and bilateral stimulation of different types appears to activate the brain’s natural information processing system.
Yes! We can view self esteem or self confidence as based on a combination of our own sense of competency or mastery as we operate in the world alongside the feedback from the important people around us, especially in early childhood. As kids we can get the message (regardless of the benevolent intentions of our caretakers) that we are not worthy, not good enough, or not lovable in some important way. The internalizing of negative judgements cultivates poor self esteem.
We can work at telling ourselves intellectually that we ARE worthy, that we ARE lovable and deserving – and we all are. But those beliefs weren’t installed through reason and cannot easily be changed by rationalizing or arguing with them. Here’s where EMDR can generate incredible change. Through the process of EMDR, these types of negative beliefs just stop making sense, they stop holding such intense emotional power over us and we are better able to just let them go. We can really, deeply feel and believe what we already know to be true: that we are enough, that we count, that we are worthy of love and abundance. We can truly embody a more accurate and empowering view of ourselves.
While we can make significant headway toward your goals using EMDR in 50-minute sessions, often the longer 75-minute sessions are much more effective and supportive. Additionally, many people can truly benefit from and see tremendous change and freedom after extended intensive experiences. I offer several options for extended sessions. Please talk with me about how an intensive experience might work for you. Three hour intensives are still held through telehealth. Full day and two day retreats are held in person with the appropriate Covid and health considerations in place.
Three Hour Intensive
You may be ready for and interested in a deeper dive into a particular, stubborn memory/experience. With the three-hour intensive, we can be more sure to really have the time necessary to fully process an event that has had a hold over you for even decades.
Full Day Retreat
A single day retreat begins at 9:00 am and ends around 5:00 pm, with some breaks. In a private and peaceful setting, you will be able to more fully process disturbing events from your past so that you will no longer have such overwhelming thoughts or feelings about that incident. You will be more free from triggers and reactivity. You will be more in control of your own actions. A single retreat includes the equivalent of 7 regular 50 minute sessions… A one-day retreat is comparable to nearly two months of therapy!
And don’t worry, we won’t be spending eight hours straight in the muddy emotions. We will design a day that will be most supportive for you and may include nurturing your physical body with massage or Reiki. There may be time to sit in quiet contemplation or play around with art supplies. It will be a unique and meaningful experience for you.
Weekend/Two Day Retreat
With a two day retreat you can truly take care of yourself and most fully process and move on from whatever has been holding you back in your life. A two day retreat includes two days of intensive therapeutic work from 9:00 am to around 5:00 pm on both days. Depending on your needs and goals, we will create a tailored experience that is right just for you.